Daily Archives: July 27, 2016

Now Is The Rail Station of Our Discontent

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We outlined how the original thought to move Albany’s railroad station to Rensselaer turned into a part of the overall plan to run the interstate along the river. Since the train station moved, the complaining about it has rarely stopped. Even now that the new facility is considerably better appointed than the old box of a station, there are endless complaints about the location, the poor public transit support, and taxi service that would have to improve significantly to reach horrible.

Well, that was the case right from the start. In January 1969, a writer for the Knickerbocker News started out with:

“Figure on adding $1.25 cab fare, plus tip, to your travel expenses if you’re taking a train to ‘Albany.’ Or, if you’re willing to carry your luggage a block from the door of Penn Central’s new ‘Albany’ passenger station in Rensselaer to the bus stop, you can get to The Plaza in Albany for only a quarter. The extras are the price the passenger pays for the railroad’s decision to shut down the old Union Station on Broadway and move the Albany station over the river.”

She granted that if someone were picking up a passenger, they’d have no problem finding parking (with about 80 spots then available, and 70 more expected). Pine Hills cabs would meet trains at the station, and could be called by direct telephone. “If you prefer, you can use a pay telephone to call another cab company.”

The United Traction Company buses (pre-CDTA) served the new station every 20 minutes, except from 1 am to 5 am, when they were hourly. Yes, our buses used to run overnight. From Albany, you’d catch the Rensselaer-Third Street bus at Hudson Avenue and Broadway – well, there’s something that hasn’t changed. That the bus didn’t really pull into the station also hasn’t changed, so we’re going on 50 years of dumb. The writer noted that the train ticket from Schenectady to Albany, now Rensselaer, cost 83 cents. The cab ride from Rensselaer to State and Pearl would run you $1.25.

But Rensselaer, and Penn Central, and passenger rail in general, did have supporters. One of them was Charles Mann Sr. of Rensselaer, part of a railroading family whose son Ernie literally wrote the book on the Railroads in Rensselaer. In a February 1969 edition of the Knick News, Mr. Mann took exception to a recent article that had focused on the shortcomings of the Penn Central in a recent snowstorm.

“As a long time reader of the Knickerbocker News and as a retired railroader, I will be the first one to admit that the passenger service furnished by the railroads at the present time may be subjected to criticism, but may I ask why the passengers on the train described by Mr. Waters [the writer] went to the railroad for transportation at the time mentioned. Why did they not go by air, bus or by private auto as they have been going for a long time?

The reason they did not go by plane or bus at the time was that there was no air or bus service available on account of severe weather conditions.”

He went on to note that the railroads faced the same weather conditions as airlines and bus lines, but that the railroads functioned more or less on scheduled and arrived at their destinations.

“There were several pictures of stranded travelers at airports, automobiles stranded at locations on the highways across the state going no place due to weather conditions, but there was no severe criticism made about the air lines or bus lines as there was made about the railroads.”

Mr. Mann then, quite rightly, said that the paper seemed to have taken a dislike to the Penn Central since it moved its station, noting that most editions of the paper contained some slam against the station’s location, parking facilities, or the fares to get there.

“As for parking space, where could you find a place to park your car near the Union Station in Albany?” Oh, snap (as the kids say).

“Also, may I remind you that for as many years as I can remember (and I can remember a good many) the people of Rensselaer had to pay the same bus and taxi fares to get to the Albany station.

When conditions favor air and bus line operation no one ever thinks of taking a train for transportation so why should the railroads be forced to maintain 1st class, on schedule service (which they do at a loss) when all other means of transportation has ceased to function … With the present amount of passengers using the railroads you should not expect to have a Grand Central in Rensselaer or Albany.”

Then, and quite rightly, Mr. Mann dropped the mic with this closer:

“it seems to me that the public deserted the railroads before the railroads deserted the public.”

Yep.